Al fresco dining ……… at your risk

Al fresco dining has taken over pavements in a number of localities and parking spaces too have not been spared either, as the catering business does not care about anything except its bottom line. Apparently, we are expected to walk in the middle of the road.

The authorities do not give a fig, as their brief is apparently to be business-friendly. People friendly? Their dictionary has no reference to the term: never heard of that!

In the last few weeks, the mayors of Gżira and Sliema – Conrad Borg Manchè and Dominic Chircop – have rightfully emphasised that the manner in which al-fresco coffee shops and restaurants in their localities are operating is largely unacceptable. It just takes one car accident to kill a number of diners: then maybe the authorities will take note.

Accidents do happen: a few weeks ago, in July, a 25-year old Dutchman, who was walking along the St Julian’s promenade was hit by an over-speeding Subaru Impreza, driven by a 20-year-old who was reported as being well over the drink-drive limit. The Dutchman died in hospital. Others were injured; street furniture was damaged.

The Lands Authority has taken the right step in refusing an application submitted by the owners of the Waterfront Hotel on The Strand Gżira, to encroach on a number of parking spaces in order to provide an al-fresco extension to the Hotel on the pavement. When the hotel’s owners contested the Lands Authority’s decision,  they were, at last, faced with some common-sense.

Magistrate Charmaine Galea, chairing the Appeals Tribunal, emphasised that the outdoor catering policy prohibited any platforms adjacent to arterial roads or in close proximity to fast-moving traffic. She rightly emphasised the fact that restaurant patrons had to be safeguarded from traffic, noise and air pollution.

She is obviously right and we desperately need her logic to “infect” the Planning Authority decision-making structures because it is clear that practically none of the al-fresco dining areas on the pavement along The Strand in Gżira and Sliema (and many other areas) are in accordance with the policy.

Magistrate Galea’s decision gives considerable weight to the points raised by the mayors of Gżira and Sliema who have been insisting all along that al-fresco dining alongside main traffic routes needs to be given considerably more thought before being given the go-ahead. The infrastructure needs upgrading in order that traffic calming measures are introduced and restaurant patrons are adequately protected – not only from traffic accidents but from noise and exhaust fumes as well. The Planning Authority has not acted responsibly when it has issued a considerable number of permits which ignore patrons but then takes great care of the bottom-line of the catering establishments.

The permits issued as a result of the so-called “one stop shop” planning policy may be business friendly, but it is certainly not people-friendly. Serious concerns related to pedestrian access through the labyrinthine footpaths left on the pavements, adequate protection from over-speeding traffic and the impact on health impacts from eating metres away from exhaust fumes are continuously ignored by the Planning Authority.

The inputs from local councils on the subject of al-fresco dining is repeatedly ignored, as the Planning Authority is not bothered. It obviously considers the above issues as being trivial in nature.

Walking along The Strand?

Forget it: the promenade is reserved for business!


published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 1 September 2018